Exploiting Nehemiah

or How Not to Read the Bible


We moderns have not been trained in how to read texts, let alone ancient ones. Reading texts requires not only an understanding of what is said but an appreciation of how it is said. Consequently, the sacred texts are simply scanned for information that supports what we have already received or they are mishandled entirely. T. David Gordon asserts that this is the reason modern preaching is so disappointing and unengaging. See Why Johnny Can’t Preach and Threshing the Text. We won’t allow the Bible to say anything new.

At a church we used to attend, the mid-week home groups all committed to following a one-term study guide based on Nehemiah. It was intended to encourage us to imitate Nehemiah’s virtues and provide a blueprint for our own rebuilding of broken communities.

The last section of Nehemiah was not included in the study as it had nothing to contribute to this imposed objective. Besides being offensively politically incorrect, it wasn’t at all useful. Rather than throwing open this powerful book as a window to some transforming light, the author of the study used it as an opaque sounding board for his own agenda. When I pointed out that Nehemiah is actually more about church discipline, rebuilding a wall between God’s people and those outside, and that this study was not, in fact, engaging at all with the text or its place in redemptive history, it was like I rained on the parade.

Our academies and churches have capitulated so fully to the surrounding culture that they have replicated the very defense mechanisms built by that culture to avoid any transformation by the Bible. So, instead of casting out Tobiah we invite him to join the worship team.

See also:
How Not to Read Genesis
How to Read the Prophets
How to Read the New Testament

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